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Defining Grief 

We all face loss; it is a natural part of our lives.  We lose relationships that are profoundly meaningful - our loved ones, friends, our pets.  We also lose jobs, roles, independence and physical functions. 

Loss comes in many shapes and sizes.  And when we lose something we love, something we had life experiences with and/or hopes and dreams that will never reach fulfillment, we grieve that loss.

Grief, by definition, is a deep sorrow; the normal process of reacting to a loss.  And each of us reacts in our own unique ways.  There are no right ways to grieve.  Contrary to what is commonly claimed, there are no stages of grief through which you will naturally graduate.  There is love that was held for another, and when a loved one dies, we have to find a way to take all of the energy, focus, thoughts, plans and love for that person and forge a new way of being, without them here with us.  We have to find a way to maintain that bond, that love, because although there is a death; love endures. 

 

Grief can also have an unexpected impact on our own worldviews, our personal paradigms, belief systems and the relationship with our loved one.  Sometimes we feel like everything  we knew to be true is fundamentally called into question.  Doubts, anger, rage and confusion are common, and expected.  Anxiety, fatigue, insomnia - these are all grief symptoms that you may be experiencing, and if they feel like they are unmanageable or do not ease up over time, can make just getting through the day a huge struggle. 

 

As we work to understand our grief, recognizing where we fall on the grief spectrum can be helpful, as there are many different types of grief.  Wherever you are on your grief journey, if there is any part of it you need help navigating, there are support options available to help you along the way.

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Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief is the grief we experience as we consider  a pending loss.  The fear, dread and anxiety around knowing our future will be changed and we will no longer have a loved one by our side can be paralyzing.  Anticipatory grief can be as intense as grief following a death.  Feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, sadness, confusion and doubt are common.  

Anticipatory grief can also offer the opportunity for communicating, if possible, with your loved one prior to their death.  Sharing feelings, thoughts and forgiveness allows us to work toward peace following the loss.  Anticipatory grief can last days, months and even years.  If the loss we face comes to fruition, we move into acute grief. 

Acute Grief

Acute grief is the response to a loss that immediately follows the death of a loved one.  The acute grief period brings with it intense feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, rage, guilt, doubt and fear, to name a few.  Acute grief, like anticipatory grief, can be expressed physically and show up as insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, chest pains and digestive issues, It is during the acute grief stage that social supports and self care is so critical.  

Because we are intrinsically designed to adapt to loss, and have the ability to draw from our own resilience, most people integrate the loss of a loved one into their lives, and again find meaning and purpose, moving into a new place of being and establishing a new relationship with their loved one.  The inability to integrate loss into our lives extends the acute grief period to the point that we can find ourselves in complicated, or prolonged grief.

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Complicated Grief (Prolonged Grief)

Complicated, or prolonged grief, exists when there is an inability to integrate a loss into our life, and we are essentially stuck in the acute grief stage.  Complicated grief is typically identified between six and 12 months following a loss.  The inability to integrate the loss into one's life leads to feelings of intense despair and longing for the loved one, feeling a lack of purpose in life and experiencing intrusive thoughts of the loved one. 

 

Complicated grief affects approximately 7% of all bereaved individuals and is paralyzing.  My training through the University of Columbia's Center for Complicated Grief  provides support for those experiencing complicated grief.  Complicated grief therapy has been proven to provide healing to over 80% of individuals experiencing complicated grief.  

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is experienced by the bereaved when society fails to recognize and accept a grief, and the ability to publicly mourn is diminished.  Examples of disenfranchised grief can be found when parents experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.  Abortion is also a loss that brings with it disenfranchised grief.  Other examples include the loss of a pet, the loss of a secret relationship or the loss of someone to an overdose or suicide.

Because disenfranchised grief typically means social support systems are not as strong, the need to support oneself is critical to healing.  

Image by Debby Hudson

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is experienced by the bereaved when society fails to recognize and accept a grief, and the ability to publicly mourn is diminished.  Examples of disenfranchised grief can be found when parents experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.  Abortion is also a loss that brings with it disenfranchised grief.  Other examples include the loss of a pet, the loss of a secret relationship or the loss of someone to an overdose or suicide.

Because disenfranchised grief typically means social support systems are not as strong, the need to support oneself is critical to healing.  

Image by Debby Hudson